AGA Aquascaping Contest

Rules and Guidelines

In this document, we first present some general information about entering the aquascaping contest, details on how the entries are judged, and specifics on each category: Aquatic Garden (normal aquascapes), Biotope Aquascape, Dutch Aquascape, Paludarium (new rules!), Wabi-Kusa (new for 2019!); and finally some rules on photographs and planting plans. Please read these guidelines before entering the contest. You may also wish to read the Frequently-Asked Questions.

General Entrance Guidelines

The AGA Aquascaping Contest generally is open for entries from June through mid-September, with the results and winners announced in early- to mid-November. Please check the contest entry page for the exact dates for this year.

This event is primarily a friendly way for hobbyists to share their aquascaping efforts with each other, and to learn better techniques through the display and evaluation of those efforts. The contest will also allow hobbyists to compete for awards. The event is open to all hobbyists, regardless of age, national origin or degree of experience in the hobby.

The focus of the event is on Aquascaping in freshwater aquaria, brackish water aquaria and paludariums. Brackish and Marine aquaria will be acceptable in the Biotope category only.

Aquascapes shall be sorted for judging into the following categories:

All but one of the categories require that you use live plants in your aquascape. The Biotope Aquascape category is reserved for aquariums that are attempting to recreate a particular natural environment, and as such will be judged accordingly. Biotopes may or may not include plants, but should be made of primarily natural materials.

Within each type, aquascapes may be split into multiple size cateogries. The choice of splits is based on participation, and up to the discretion of the judges and organizers.

Each entrant will need to:

  1. Complete a form with their personal information (including their real legal name and a return address)
  2. Agree to the photo release (part of the above form)
  3. Supply basic information for each aquascape (maximum three aquascapes per entrant)
  4. Upload photographs (1-5 per aquascape)

Entrants are forbidden to ask advice or show entry photos to members of the AGA Board of Directors or current contest judges. The first offense will result in a warning, and the second offense can result in disqualification of the entry. Continued attempts to contact the members of the AGA Board of Directors or judges will be considered an attempt to influence the entrant's score and will result in banning from the contest for that calendar year.

Further questions may be answered by the organizers at

Judging and Awards

Judging will be conducted with each aquascape identified only by number; i.e. the judges will not know the identity of the entrant whose aquascape they are considering. Judges do not communicate with each other when scoring each aquascape.

Within each category, each judge's ranking (not raw score) for the aquascapes will be harmonically averaged to determine the overall placing of aquascapes within the category. Awards (1st, 2nd and 3rd place) will be given to the three highest placed aquascapes. Overall placings 4~10 be acknowledged as "top ten" (presented in tank volume order, not place order!). There is no physical award for top ten.

After the winners are tabulated, the judges will also choose, by vote, a Best of Show Aquascape and a Most Innovative Aquascape. They will communicate with each other over this decision.

Judges are asked provide feedback on the qualities of each aquascape in the contest. These comments will be placed on the website associated with the appropriate aquascapes. After the winners are announced, judges may be available (at their discretion) on the AGA Facebook group where entrants can post a photo and request commentary.

The decisions of the judges are final.

Aquatic Garden Categories

The vast majority of the aquascapes are entered in the Aquatic Garden categories. So much that there are 6 or more size divisions! If you are unsure which category is correct, it is very likely Aquatic Garden. There are four basic criteria which we wish considered in the judging of the aquascapes entered in the contest. We further ask the judges to consider the following when reviewing each aquascape:

Biotope Aquascape

A biotope is a habitat originating from a specific location. It has particular environmental characteristics specific to the area and a native population of plants and animals. A single stream or lake may include numerous biotopes. For instance, a stony riffle in a stream may be one biotope while a nearby silt-bottomed pool on the same stream may be a different biotope. On the other hand, the same biotope may occur in numerous streams in a region where all stony riffles or silt-bottomed pools support the same community of plants and animals.

In its purest form, the biotope aquascape is a microscopic representation of a naturally-occurring particular geographical area in the wild.

An entry that accurately represents a biotope through species selection and arrangement of hardscape and living elements will receive a higher score.

Rules for acceptable entries in the AGA’s Aquascaping Contest Biotope Category:

An expert committee will screen submissions in the Biotope Category and accept as entries those that in its sole determination, follow these rules. The committee’s judgment will be final. If there are questions regarding the validity of the biotope aquascape, the committee may ask for justification.

Based on the criteria, to aid the screening process, we strongly suggest that entrants provide the following information:

  1. A description of the biotope represented by the entry.
  2. A description of the materials used in the entry, including plants, fish, and hardscape materials. Include why certain choices were made.
  3. References to substantiate the appropriateness of the materials used. Books, articles, photos, and web links are all acceptable references.

If the committee rejects a submission because it does meet the Biotope guidelines, the AGA will automatically disqualify the aquascape.

After a Biotope entry has been approved by the screening committee, it will be judged by the AGA International Aquascaping Contest judging panel. Each judge will score the biotope based on the following criteria:

Results of the judging will be made public at the appropriate times as determined by the dates predetermined by the AGA International Aquascaping Contest.

Dutch Category Judging Guidelines

Overall Impression - maximum 50 points

Composition: Balance, Use of Space, Use of Color - maximum 60 points

Selection & Use of Plants, Hardscape Materials, and Animals - maximum 50 points

Viability of Aquascape - maximum 40 points


There are four basic criteria which we wish considered in the judging of the paludariums entered in the contest. These are what we ask the judges to consider when reviewing each paludarium aquascape:


Wabi-Kusa is defined here as a creative layout of primarily emersed grown aquatic plants. Judges will award points respective to the criteria categories listed below:


The short version:

Entrants are requested to provide 1 ~ 5 images of their aquascape, ideally showing both overall views and close-ups of details they wish to highlight.

While the focus of this event is on the aquascape shown in the images, entrants are encouraged to try and provide the clearest, sharpest images possible. The better the images that are provided, the better they will reproduce and display.

Please send the highest resolution and quality possible. We can handle most formats, even camera raw.

You may alter an aquascape's image only for color correction, brightness, shadow/highlight, contrast and/or sharpness. While the organizers realize that in an event of this type it is entirely possible for an unethical person to manufacture a digital image of a non-existent tank, it is our hope that entrants will honor the spirit of sharing and friendly competition upon which this event is based. We are counting on the honesty and integrity of our participants to submit only images that are truly representative of their work as aquascape artists!

Many entrants feel the need to add large frame borders around their photographs; this detracts from the image, by making it scale smaller than other entries. In all likelihood, we will just remove the border. Please save us the work, and submit your images borderless.

Images submitted should not have the photographer's name or Copyright Notice superimposed over the image. Images should not include the aquascaper in the picture (aka, a selfie). Judging needs to be anonymous, and this information could affect the impartial evaluation of aquascapes. We will add a copyright 'burn-in' in the final website.

When creating a planting plan, keep in mind that a blocky diagram works much better than something with thin lines, and high-resolution graphic is just as important as in the photographs. A simple sketch with a Sharpie pen on a piece of paper will look better on the final site than a tiny 320x240 pixel graphic done with a Paint program. Also make sure to list the plants in the caption rather than in the graphic itself. This will save us an incredible amount of retyping and graphic retouching time!

All entrants must agree to a Photo Release before their entries and photographs will be accepted into the contest.